This year has been full of history-making moments, including civil rights protests, the global Covid-19 pandemic – and even the CIA releasing actual footage of UFOs. Perhaps the most alien thing to have happened, though, is that we’ve had to stop touching each other.
2020 became the year when physical contact was forbidden: French kissing, hugging, holding hands and sex were all off the table (and any other surfaces where germs can live). Dating apps advised users to keep their dates digital, while whole relationships played out through FaceTime and Zoom. Meanwhile, sales of sex toys have seen a massive uptick.
One thing that’s finally coming back to life, though, is production on film sets — but under the much-needed rules of social distancing, with “Covid compliance officers” patrolling every set. Filmmakers are having to rewrite and often remove scenes involving intimacy to minimise risk to their actors. As cinema battles with a period of puritanisation, we look at five films that celebrate physicality, from Call Me By Your Name (2017) to 9½ Weeks (1986).
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Luca Guadagnino unequivocally proved himself a master of capturing passion on screen with 2009’s I Am Love. With Call Me By Your Name, he lets us experience the love affair between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer) as it blooms across one hot summer in northern Italy.
Guadagnino had no interest in including overtly explicit scenes and he didn’t need to, as the connection and chemistry between the two men burns through the screen in every glance, touch and stolen kiss. Particularly memorable is one much-talked-about scene, which does for peaches what American Pie (1999) did for baked goods. At the New York Film Festival in October 2017, the film received the longest standing ovation in the festival’s history. A sequel is now in the works.
2. 9½ Weeks (1986)
Adrian Lyne’s film chronicles a nine-and-a-half-week love affair between Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) and John (Mickey Rourke), set against an archetypal 1980s Manhattan backdrop. She works in a Soho art gallery, he works on Wall Street. They meet by chance in a Chinese grocery store, their eyes connect, he smiles – boom, we’re in.
What follows is a dominant/subservient affair that works as a form of escapism from the normality of their everyday lives. A predecessor to Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) — but much, much better — the obvious chemistry between Rourke and Basinger elevates the movie, at points, to softcore fluff. As with Call Me By Your Name’s peach, this movie heightened the humble fridge from a container of perishable goods to a receptacle of infinite sexual possibilities. A perfectly wonderful classic.
3. Young & Beautiful (2013)
François Ozon’s film about Isabelle (Marine Vacth), a 17-year-old girl who decides to become a sex worker, is broken into four chapters, each based on a Françoise Hardy song. We first meet Isabelle as a virgin, then next see her working as a high-class escort. Her trajectory to sex work is never explained other than she’s potentially rebelling against her wealthy family.
Her encounters with her clients seem detached and joyless, until she meets Georges (Johan Leysen) and something changes dramatically. A beautifully shot, stirring piece of cinema, it was deservedly nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
4. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Based on a true love story, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is an ordinary French teenager going about her ordinary life – until she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux). For just over three hours, we watch Adèle grow as she throws herself into a love affair that has a small age difference, but a bigger class divide.
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the film is both critically acclaimed and mired in controversy. Lead actors Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have accused the director of exploitative shooting practices (although Seydoux later clarified: “I’m still very happy with this film [but] it was hard to film”) while others have pointed out that the graphic, seven-minute-long sex scene was shot via the male gaze rather than depicting a truthful rendering of lesbian sex.
When the film was shown at Cannes Film Festival, the jury — which included Steven Spielberg — took the unprecedented step of awarding the Palme d’Or equally to the two actresses and the director. This is a beautiful, perfectly acted, unforgettable piece of filmmaking.
5. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Before he directed Gravity (2013) and Roma (2018), Alfonso Cuarón made this film about two teenage friends, played by Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, who meet a sexy older woman (Maribel Verdú) at a wedding. Intent on impressing, they invite her on a journey to a legendary secret beach called Heaven’s Mouth. She unexpectedly agrees, and the three of them set off on a road trip that soon becomes a sexually fluid journey of discovery.
Way more than a teenage sex romp, Cuarón masterfully curates a multi-layered narrative set against the backdrop of 1990s Mexican politics, with real depth and meaning. The sex scenes involving all three are passionate, but realistic, and the storyline is tender and emotional. A wonderful early work from a powerhouse of a director.
From British Vogue